People afraid of the dentist are being reminded that dentistry has significantly changed after an alarming number of Brits say a visit is scarier than 10 of the UK’s most common phobias, a new survey reveals. One in three (33 per cent) said a routine check-up was scarier than interacting with other people. Visiting the dentist also caused greater anxiety than open spaces (31 per cent), driving, animals and confined spaces. Spiders and flying (25 per cent), and vomiting and illness (24 per cent) completed the list.
When asked what influences fear of the dentist the most, one in three (31 per cent) said needles and injections while one in four (25 per cent) suggested pain was the main influence.
The results have been published as part of National Smile Month, which ran from 19 May to 19 June 2014. The good news for patients afraid of the dentist is that more and more dentists nowadays understand their patients’ fears, and with a combination of kindness, gentleness and improvements in technology they can do a lot to make dental treatment a normal part of life.
If you haven’t seen a dentist for years through fear and anxiety, be reassured that you should find the experience dramatically more bearable nowadays.
Why are some people afraid of the dentist?
Most people who are scared of the dentist have bad memories from childhood of the smells and sounds of the surgery. The reality is modern dental surgeries are much friendlier environments with flowers in the waiting room, art on the walls, a pleasant reception area and polite staff.
Advances in technology have also improved dentistry. Treatment can now be completely painless. The dental wand (a computer-driven injection system) is great for anyone with a needle phobia or a numbing gel can be used to numb your gums before an injection.
Do you have fear or anxiety about coming to the dentist? The Dental Fears Research Clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle (1) estimates that perhaps 20% of patients experienced enough anxiety that they will go to the dentist only when absolutely necessary.
One of the problems is that if you don’t visit the dentist your oral health can deteriorate without you knowing.
Research by the Harvard Medical School (2) stated that:
“Oral bacteria could also harm blood vessels or cause blood clots by releasing toxins that resemble proteins found in artery walls or the bloodstream. The immune system’s response to these toxins could harm vessel walls or make blood clot more easily. It is also possible that inflammation in the mouth revs up inflammation throughout the body, including in the arteries, where it can lead to heart attack and stroke.”
So really, attending the dentist regularly is vital to keep your dental health and overall body health in excellent condition, so how can we begin to help you overcome that fear?
We often find that overcoming dental fear is about realising that you have a choice.
Think about it now, you weren’t born with a fear of the dentist, babies are a blank canvas and have no such irrational fears. However, as we get older we have certain experiences that shape our views, so think about it now… what experience led you to believe you were afraid of the dentist?
When you come to see us we will ask you what was the trigger that taught you this behaviour, this will then help us to help you overcome this irrational fear.
The problem is that we have these experiences once and they then shape our thought patterns by teaching us new behaviours i.e. to fear the dentist, this is a key point to understand, your fear is a learnt behaviour – and if it can be learnt, a new way of thinking can also be learnt.
So even as you read this email now, you’ll notice how irrational being afraid of the dentist really is and how comfortable we can actually make dental treatment with all of our modern techniques.
Some simple exercises to help overcome dental anxiety
Do you hear voices in our head?
If you are thinking ‘No I don’t have voices’ then THAT’S the voice we are talking about, the one that just said ‘I don’t have any voices’!
We all have voices in our head that talk to us telling us things… ‘you’re no good’ ‘ you’re fat’ ‘ you’re scared of the dentist’… now you know the voice we mean, don’t you.
A key strategy on overcoming fear and relaxing at the dentist is to learn to control these voices, so try this exercise now… it may seem odd, but try it as it will work brilliantly for you.
1) Say in your mind something mean about yourself.
Not anything too mean, but something that is important to you and has meaning for you, something like “You are a failure’, “You’ll never be any good at anything’… you know, the kind of thing we were told as kids and we keep with us as adults.
2) Now take that voice and remove it from your head and imagine it on your shoulder, allow it to keep saying those mean things.
Notice how it seems to have less power now that it is out of your head and on your shoulder
3) Now hold you arm out straight in front of you, put your thumb up vertically, and imagine your voice coming from the tip of your thumb.
As you do this now, notice that even though the words are the same, the power of the voice is weaker.
4) Now give that voice on the tip of your thumb a comedic voice, something really funny and stupid. Allow it to say the same mean things, but allow that voice to say them from the tip of your thumb and in a comedic and funny voice.
Notice this time how the power is completely gone from that voice. Notice how YOU have controlled that voice to take away it’s power.
Now you have realised that YOU are in control of the nagging voice in your head, each time it mentions fear, then place it at the end of your thumb, give it a comedic funny voice and the power of that negative thought has gone.
Dental Sedation, one more step in the right direction.
Now that you have greater control over relaxing at the dentist, it is a good time to talk more about specifically about dental sedation and what options are available.
Relative Analgesia Sedation Explained
RA Sedation, often called Happy Gas, or Happy Air is a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen which is adjusted to suit you. Different people need a different mix of these gases to achieve a feeling of being warm, cosy and far-away. We use a small soft sterile nosepiece for you to breathe through.
RA sedation allows you to return to work or home afterwards.
How quickly will you recover from RA Sedation?
Very quickly. After treatment you will usually be recovered within 2-3 minutes and can return to the waiting room. You will usually be able to leave the practice within 10 minutes. We do advise against driving for 30-60 minutes but you can return to your usual activities such as home, work or school.
How safe is RA sedation?
Very safe. We use it for children and adults from 5 to 95 so long as they are able to understand how it works and how they will feel. Since you are able to speak to the dentist, if at any time you feel the happy air mixture is a bit too strong, we can quickly turn it down and within a few seconds you will feel very relaxed again.
1. WEBMD – Dental Fears Research Clinic www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/dont-fear-the-dentist
2. Harvard Medical School – heart disease and oral health: role of oral bacteria in heart plaque www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/heart-disease-oral-health